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Rooney: Scheduling ‘Alliance’ likely to impact Pac-12 basketball well ahead of football

Agreement with Big Ten, ACC could create intriguing hoops matchups

University of Colorado Boulder Men's Basketball Head Coach Tad Boyle talks to the the team during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
University of Colorado Boulder Men’s Basketball Head Coach Tad Boyle talks to the the team during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

The Alliance has arrived.

Among the latest rounds of seismic upheavals to hit collegiate athletics, Tuesday’s much-anticipated announcement regarding the formation of a working alliance between the Pac-12, ACC, and Big Ten proved to be a telling aftershock.

Though short on details or even concrete commitments — there is no formal contract binding this union, or even plans for one — the glorified gentleman’s agreement served notice there will be competition alongside the marriage between ESPN and the SEC that will only grow more lucrative with an expanded College Football Playoff and the SEC’s pending addition of Texas and Oklahoma.

As was widely reported on Tuesday, including by the Pac-12 Hotline produced by the San Jose Mercury News, the crux of the alliance is less about scheduling agreements, which certainly will play a role, but to delay expansion of the CFP (from its current four-team format to 12) until at least 2026, after the current CFP television contract expires.

Scheduling agreements will be a secondary, down-the-road perk of the alliance, but given how the lack of openings on Colorado’s nonconference football schedule for the better part of the next decade, it remains unclear what direct impact this working agreement will have on campus. Although football drives the engine for all the current and former conference realignment plans and financial jockeying, the Buffs football program may not be directly impacted by the alliance for some time.

The men’s and women’s basketball programs, however, are another matter.

The nonconference schedule for CU football is filled through 2030 except for a lone open date in 2029. Two of the three nonconference dates are filled for 2031, 2033, and 2037. Between 2022 and 2027 the Buffs already are playing at least one Big Ten team or ACC team in every season, including trips to both Georgia Tech and Northwestern in 2026. When that run ends, CU begins a home-and-home set in 2028 with Florida.

The football schedule has been filled aggressively, but if the league eventually decides to move to an eight-game conference schedule, future “Alliance Games” certainly could be added.

In basketball, schedules are compiled on a year-to-year basis, and the only confirmed opponents for the CU men’s program on the 2022-23 schedule is the final contest of a three-game agreement with Tennessee (in Nashville) and a home date against Colorado State. The Pac-12 moved to a 20-game conference basketball schedule last season (from 18) while also recently imparting a new directive aimed at improving the league’s collective NCAA tournament credentials. In short, the nonconference opponents for each team must boast an aggregate five-year average ranking of 175 in the NET, the computer ranking used as the primary tool in selecting the NCAA Tournament field.

For coach Tad Boyle’s program, retaining that average 175 mark has been aided by the three-game Tennessee series, along with a home-and-home series against Kansas that ends with a home date on Dec. 21. Because of the larger conference slate, having a nonconference foe culled from the bottom third of the NET makes a bigger dent in that goal of a 175 average. Yet adding, say, at least one nonconference game from a Big Ten foe as well as an ACC foe each year would bolster the tournament resumes from all three leagues.

Unless the Pac-12 shortens its football slate or other unforeseen openings hit future CU football schedules, it will be some time before the Buffs get a chance to square off against Big Ten or ACC football bluebloods like Michigan, Ohio State or Florida State. Seeing the likes of Indiana, North Carolina or Duke on the basketball court, possibly even in Boulder, might happen much sooner.

While the Buffs have played plenty of Big Ten and ACC foes over the years on neutral floors, an ACC men’s basketball team has visited the Events Center just once when CU hosted Duke on Dec. 2, 1982. A Big Ten team hasn’t visited since Northwestern on Nov. 28, 2004.

“There could be nonconference games. You could see some (showcase events) potentially as well. There’s just a lot of work that still has to be done,” CU athletic director Rick George told BuffZone during the Front Range Huddle football kickoff luncheon Wednesday at the Blake Street Tavern in Denver. “We’re going to start having some inter-conference games with the Big Ten and the ACC. What that looks like, it hasn’t been fleshed out yet. But it will be in the coming days.

“I think it’s something you could do certainly a little bit sooner than football.”